The backwoods of Worcestershire is no place from which to start building a poetic career. A poetic world, certainly: but poetic career: certainly not. So it is interesting to note that Worcestershire-born Martin Corless-Smith lives and works in Boise, Idaho, and this book is published in New York. It’s an interesting path.
But what is a poetic career anyway? This is one of the things that seem to be an issue in Swallows. The author obsesses about Horace and John Keats - and in the course of the book calls on a group of generally establishment poets to investigate his interest in place, identity, and language in a way that before reading I imagined I’d grown tired of a long time ago.
There’s a quote from Ron Silliman on the inside back of the book. It’s a good one: He says “Clearly this is a major poetry as well as a problematic one – very possibly the former condition is itself what demands the latter”, and although John Donne tellingly gets the back cover to himself, what Ron Silliman (in the waistcoat of Harold Bloom) suggests is (to my mind) certainly half true. Ignoring the stuff about ‘Major Poetry’ (is Major Poetry in the same army as Captain America ?) you are still left with the word ‘problematic’. I haven’t seen the larger text but what seems problematic are the historical & romantic sources that constitute the itch of the book. How can this be relevant? How do we need it? Where is the poet in relation to his earlier poets?
The answer is that if you are good enough, you can do whatever you want. The focus & passion of the poet’s eye makes them all relevant, whether you like it or not. The swallows of the title are birds, but I think that the energy of the word as a verb is also a useful way in to all this. His passion for & engagement with these writers’ struggles & erased & embellished identities stands as a metaphor for his own. [It’s a minor aside, but I imagine being British in Boise acted as some kind of magnet for all this Europe as well.] The gravity that Keats, Milton & Horace offer is both dangerous & attractive. It’s hard to imagine anything original coming out of such faithful investigation: and yet it does.
There are very few writers getting anything useful out of the Norton
Anthology these days. For every poet who knows their O’Hara
and Ashbery, how many these days know their Horace & Keats? —&
why should they? The poems here suggest there is some juice in these
ancient grapes yet. Susan Howe has made something interesting out
of the literary past. Czeslaw Milosz made a career out of talking
with his elders. Ezra? Of course. It is a very small list.
But – with Swallows, at least - you can add the name of Martin